By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Now in select theaters and on VOD from IFC Films under the IFC Midnight banner, 78/52 is a penetrating documentary that delves into Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic PSYCHO, and specifically the iconic shower murder of Marion Crane, in unprecedented detail. RUE MORGUE got an exclusive chat with director Alexandre O. Philippe about this fascinating film study.
78/52 (reviewed here) features interviews with a wide range of filmmakers (Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Peter Bogdanovich, SpectreVision principals Elijah Wood, Josh Waller and Daniel Noah, etc.) and film experts, along with the children of PSYCHO stars Anthony Perkins (director Osgood Perkins) and Janet Leigh (actress Jamie Lee Curtis)—many of them digitally inserted into Marion’s room at the Bates Motel. The movie explores in depth, and recreates, the details of how Hitchcock crafted the setpiece that made generations afraid of showering, allowing Marli Renfro (Leigh’s body double for the scene) to tell her story for the first time. PSYCHO may not be a new subject for examination, but 78/52 makes it seem like one.
Considering how many times PSYCHO has been explored, what inspired you to take your own look at it?
I definitely wanted to bring a number of new subjects to the mix, such as figuring out why Hitchcock picked the casaba melon to create the sounds of the knife striking Marion’s flesh, and going down the rabbit hole of “Susannah and the Elders,” the painting Norman Bates removes from the wall to reveal the peephole. I also thought it was crucial to tell the story of Marli Renfro, the body double. A lot of the shots in the shower scene are actually her—it’s her body—so it was great that she agreed to be in the film, and I’m very glad I was able to tell her story.
Has PSYCHO always been important to you as a filmmaker?
I would say that more broadly, Hitchcock has always been extremely important to me, since about age 5. I remember watching Hitchcock films on a regular basis, and he was always part of the family, you know? I’ve always watched his films kind of obsessively, to the point where at a certain age, I thought, “Why am I enjoying these films so much?” That’s how I got into analyzing movies. It was a very organic process for me; it was not an academic process. It’s a passion for me to dissect film in general, and get to the bottom of the details. And PSYCHO has always been around, though I have no distinct memory of watching it for the first time, probably because I did so at a very young age.
How long did it take to put 78/52 together, and who were the first people you contacted to take part?
It was a three-year process, even though the idea came about a couple of years prior to that. It was just one of those ideas I kept coming back to, to the point where it was obvious that it needed to be made. The first two interviews were Marli and Stephen Rebello (author of ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE MAKING OF “PSYCHO”); they were both on the same day, and it was a great kickoff to the project. We interviewed people over a two, two-and-a-half-year period.
How did you put together the list of people to interview?
That happened kind of organically, and it was a slow process. Obviously, there are a number of big fish in there that took a while to get. We had to chase people like Guillermo del Toro and Jamie Lee Curtis for a long time. We still talk about the shower scene just as much as people were talking about it 57 years ago, so getting a mix of older and younger, different generations, and making sure there were a number of female voices were very important to me. I don’t think you can make a film about Hitchcock, let alone about PSYCHO, without having women talk about it. And then, of course, including a number of editors was very important; it’s the ultimate scene where the art of editing is concerned, so that was a major point we needed to address. And needless to say, I wanted a number of Hitchcock scholars in there as well.
It’s a real coup that you got Curtis and Osgood Perkins to talk about their parents and their roles in PSYCHO.
Yeah, that was pretty great. Jamie Lee Curtis was finally ready to open up about her mother and the shower scene. There was a moment during the interview where she got quite emotional; it wasn’t appropriate to use in the film, but she teared up and talked about how much that movie changed her mother’s career, and everything for her and her family. They’re all very grateful for PSYCHO and for what Mr. Hitchcock did.
Were there any major names you went after but couldn’t get?
Of course, of course. There were so many who broke my heart, from Martin Scorsese to Brian De Palma to Quentin Tarantino to David Lynch. With some of them, the scheduling couldn’t be worked out, and some of them I’m still waiting for a response from [laughs]! And others just didn’t want to take part. That’s just the name of the game; it’s a shame, but you move on.
What inspired the idea to digitally place the interviewees in the Bates Motel?
That was an almost immediate idea. Usually when I make films, the foundational concepts come together very quickly. Then I have to figure out, “How do I make this work?” Because that was clearly going to double our budget, if not triple it [laughs]. But to me, it’s about giving a cinematic treatment to the subject, and the fun was to make a movie about watching the shower scene, because voyeurism is such a key motif, obviously, in PSYCHO. I wanted to play on this idea that we’re looking at these people through a peephole watching the shower scene, and riff on those themes.
It was challenging, because we had to shoot the interviews in front of greenscreen and build a set for the interior of the Bates Motel room, and go to Universal Studios to shoot the exteriors with rain machines and a vintage 1957 Ford. It’s not the typical stuff you would do for a documentary, but I’m proud of the fact that we stuck to our guns and made it work.
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